Leeds Permanent Building Society

(1848-1995)

Early Days

In the mid 19th century, Leeds was one of Britain's leading industrial towns. Located on the edge of the West Yorkshire coalfields, it had connections to Hull in the east and Liverpool in the west. The town grew rapidly, its population swelling by two thirds in 50 years.

Cellar dwelling Leeds, late 19th century.
Cellar dwelling Leeds, late 19th century.

Not surprisingly, this sudden influx of people led to overcrowded and insanitary housing conditions. Many people lived, worked and slept in a single room.

One response was to set up a building society, where working men pooled their resources to buy land and build houses.

The Leeds Building and Investment Society was formed in 1846. It was a 'terminating' society; houses were built for its members, and the society then disbanded.

Demand for new housing greatly outstripped the Society’s ability to build, however. Two years later the Society's trustees decided to convert to 'permanent' status. This allowed members to deposit money without being obliged to build or buy a house. The cash they deposited would in turn be loaned to other members, who did want to acquire a house. The Society would thus endure for as long as its members wanted.

The 'Second Leeds'

On 8th November 1848, the new permanent society was officially founded. It was named 'The Permanent Second Leeds Benefit Building Society'. By the end of its first year, 1,200 members had enrolled, and £14,286 had been advanced in mortgages – nearly £700,000 today.

Cartoonist's impression of the first Leeds board meeting, 1848.
Cartoonist's impression of the first Leeds board meeting, 1848.

The Society's first offices were located in Exchange Buildings in Lands Lane. Business was conducted from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m., and also 7.00 p.m. to 9.00 p.m. on Tuesdays.

It later moved to 32 Park Row, and then in 1876, to the corner of Park Lane and Calverley. Here the Society was to remain for the next 50 years.

A further move took place in 1930, this time to purpose-built premises at The Headrow, on the corner of Guildford and Cookridge Streets. The new head office was designed by local architect C.W. Atkinson.  'Permanent House', as it was known, was the Leeds’ home until the move to Lovell Park, in 1992.

Lands Lane offices.          Park Lane offices, 1878-1930.          Permanent House in the 1940s.
Lands Lane offices.           Park Lane offices, 1878-1930.       Permanent House in the 1940s.

Growth and Expansion

The founders of the Leeds Permanent were 'not men who let the grass grow under their feet'. Within six months, the Society had opened eight agencies in neighbouring towns, including Wetherby, Barnsley and Huddersfield. By the time of its 10th birthday in 1858, it had 3,500 members and was proudly proclaiming itself 'the largest building society in the world'.

The Society's competent management won it recognition at the highest levels. In 1871, it was asked to give evidence to a Royal Commission in London, which was looking into the operations of friendly societies. The Leeds was specially commended by the Commission as a model society.

Developments in the Early 20th Century

By the early years of the 20th century, the Leeds had assets of almost £2 million pounds. It had also installed the first telephones and electric lighting at its head office!

The interwar years saw a period of unprecedented growth. Agents were appointed all over Britain, and branch offices opened in virtually every major city. These included London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester.

Between 1920 and 1940, assets soared above £40 million, while membership increased to more than 200,000.  In 1948, the Leeds celebrated its centenary.  In the same year, its influential General Manager, Sir Charles Davies, was elected Chairman of the Building Societies Association - the first Leeds' executive to hold this position.

Sir Charles Davies, General Manager, 1940-1958.
Sir Charles Davies, General Manager, 1940-1958.

Mergers and Amalgamations

From the 1940s on, the Leeds was involved in a series of mergers. These included the London North Eastern Railway Building Society, the Doncaster Building Society and the Midland. There was also another push in branch expansion, with the 100th branch opening in 1970.

Technology too was making an impact. In 1964, the board approved a research project into the conversion of mechanical accounting to electronic data processing. As a result, the Society's first computer was installed in 1967.

Like many other societies, the Leeds took advantage of opportunities offered by the 1986 Building Societies Act. It diversified into share-dealing, off-shore banking, estate agency and property development.

Further amalgamations were considered in the 1980s and early '90s, but they were not progressed. Then in 1995, the Leeds merged with the Halifax Building Society. Shortly after this, the Halifax converted to plc status.


'Gift Wrapped' cartoon - Halifax and Leeds merger 1995.

Return to the Halifax family tree.

Further Information

  • Leeds Permanent Building Society. A Survey of One Hundred Years, 1848-1948 (Leeds Permanent Building Society, [1948]).
  • A Personal Review of Leeds Permanent Building Society 1930–1980 by Les Grainger (Leeds Permanent Building Society, 1985).
  • 'The History of the Leeds Permanent Building Society, 1893-1993' by Michael Collins (in Leeds City Business 1893-1993: Essays Marking the Centenary of the Incorporation, edited by John Chartres and Katrina Honeyman (Leeds University Press, Leeds, 1993).
  • Archives relating to the Leeds Permanent are held by Lloyds Banking Group Archives in Edinburgh - for further information see our archive collections.
  • Records and artefacts relating to the Leeds Permanent are also on display in the Museum on the Mound.